SEO: There Is No Secret Ingredient

When Google announced their latest algorithm update codename “Panda” the jokes came out of the woodwork to tease the name. But the reality was that this update impacted the SERPs big time. A lot of major sites suffered traffic loss due to their rankings falling. When that happened a lot of SEOs were scrambling to figure out what happened and what they could do as a “work around” to get their respect pride rankings back. What amazed me as I watched all this unfold were the number of SEOs asking on Twitter if anyone had found a solution to the Panda update. The reality is, the solution was right in front of them, they just didn’t see it.

A Lesson in Kung Fu

Ironically around the same time the second wave of Panda hit my son was getting into Kung Fu Panda II. When I saw the toy he got from McDonalds I couldn’t help but laugh. My wife ended up taking him to see the second Kung Fu Panda movie when it hit theaters but after watching a movie he likes once, he HAS to watch it again and again and again and….you get the point.

We ended up buying the first Kung Fu Panda on DVD to pacify his need. I sat down with him and watched it for the first time the other day and was pleasantly surprised at the flick. *Spoiler Alert* Po, this big Panda who worked for his dad at a noodle restaurant learning his family’s famous noodle soup recipe, was chosen as the “dragon warrior” to defeat a Kung Fu threat to his city. As the dragon warrior he would be allowed to read the legendary “dragon scroll” that contains the most coveted secrets in Kung Fu and would make anyone who read it a true Kung Fu master.

He was clumsy, had a lot of knowledge of Kung Fu, but no practice. After getting beaten to a pulp in training he finally finds how to focus and get better. Eventually his master deems Po good enough to read the dragon scroll. But when he reads it, he finds it blank. Nothing is there. Depressed he heads home because there is no way he can beat the threat encroaching on his town. Reuniting with his father, Po is told the secret to his family’s famous noodle soup. The soup was great because of how it was made; there was nothing secret about it. Then it hit Po. The dragon scroll was blank because there is no final secret to Kung Fu; he knew all he needed to defeat the oncoming enemy.

My Own Beginnings

I haven’t been in SEO that long. I’m approaching four years, but when I first got started I was like Po. I kind of got tossed into SEO, knowing some stuff but didn’t really have a lot of practice. So I got knocked around (virtually) in the SERPs until I started to take hold of the basics and build on those. Since my first site was a local non-profit, I wasn’t really thinking long term.

Then the winds of change came and I found myself wanting to go deeper and deeper into search. I read everything I could, got on Twitter and became a RT’ing firehouse of repeated (sometimes useless) information without even attempting to connect with others. I even signed up for Sphinn and sphunn (is that the right usage?) stories people asked me to without making up my own mind. Like Po, I had to learn there is a certain way to interact with the community for the first time.

The fact is the SEO community is very welcoming and open. I was turned off because the first few forums I went to I was met with hostility as a “n00b that needed to leave”. Ironically the same moderators were also the same people at conferences that jeer after a session “I didn’t learn anything new. These speakers are holding back”. In reality people are here to encourage and teach, but it doesn’t come without dues to pay and trials to go through. There are some in this community I’ve learned/learn a great deal from and I consider as close as family (you know who you are).

These are the people I benefit the most from. Sure, there are industry leaders that stand out. But just because they follow you on Twitter or add you to their circle on G+ doesn’t mean they’ll give you personal time and attention. When Po got on a personal level with his Master that’s when the real learning began. And much of it, he already knew, it just needed to be finely tuned. New skills were added to compliment what was already there and before long he was ready for the dragon scroll. But the fact is he knew all he needed to know.

The Next Step For Me

When I finally got a job working in-house I was faced with a site much bigger than I’d ever looked at before. I did a quick assessment and knew there were some very basic metrics missing, but I ignored them. I had close peers tell me, “Josh, here are some key aspects you’re missing. Quick fixes all of them.” I ignored that advice as well. I was looking for something much more “advanced” or “new and edgy” to take the site to the next level. Ultimately by the time I realized that there was no secret ingredient, bigger company issues arose and being the lowest on the totem pole, I was let go. Thankfully I was able to find another job, but would have to move my family 2,000 miles away to the Northwest.

Since living and working here I’ve learned more about methodology and how to apply what I know. It’s the reaffirmation I’ve gotten and new perspective of the search engines that’s got me back on the right track. I no longer go to conferences in search of “the big secret”. I go to connect on a personal level with others in hopes I can return the favor to them someday. I go to sit in on sessions about topics that interest me to hear case studies to see if I can apply the same methods to any client work I currently have or may end up with. When I read search articles, I don’t read the same massive amounts I used to. I cut back to selecting a few favorite authors, not sources. When I interact online socially I do so to engage/share/assist (when I can) to build rapport with others in the search community.

An Apology…Sort Of

If you read this article hoping I would give some insight on SEO best practices, I’m sorry. If you thought there would be some little tidbits here, my bad. The fact is I could list out everything I know, but I question what good would actually come of it. At SMX Advanced Seattle 2011 I overheard Kris Roadruck saying, “There are thousands of SEOs in the world, but only a handful actually knows how to do SEO”. While I agree with that statement, I honestly believe there are even more that already know what they need to know to be successful, but just haven’t figured out there is no secret ingredient.

About the Author

Joshua Titsworth is an SEO project manager with Click2Rank. He’s also the reigning office ping-pong champion. When he’s not online tweeting or blogging, he’s at home with his family or at a local golf course trying to break 80 … but first he must break 90.

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